This movie has been in limbo for months now, and I’m not going to waste any more time waiting. Let’s get right to the point. Charlie Bartlett is the story of a wealthy teenager shifted from private school to public, after a series of mishaps get him kicked out of every private institution available. The problem it would seem, is simply that Charlie is desperate to be liked, and he’s willing to do literally anything to accomplish it. At his new public school, he quickly discovers that the way to the hearts of his peers is to become their self-appointed psychiatrist. Using his own therapy sessions to obtain a ready supply of medication, he sets up shop in the boys’ bathroom, filling out prescriptions and giving advice to kids in trouble. As it turns out, in High School that qualifies as just about all of them.
Along the way he achieves the popularity he desires, becoming a Ferris Bueller-like figure to his school. This is however, not without problems and soon Charlie learns all kinds of important lessons about what matters in life, while at the same time becoming super cool and of course, getting the girl.
Anton Yelchin is great as Charlie, he has that same kind of magnetic, pasty-faced charisma that Matthew Broderick had as the aforementioned Ferris… only he doesn’t need a Cameron to make all his really wild ideas happen. The movie rests almost entirely on his shoulders, and he carries it. In fact, he’s better than the movie deserves because more often than not the script leaves him stranded.
Charlie Bartlett, much like it’s same named lead character, expects too much from itself. It’s not happy to be entertaining and wry, nor is it happy being downbeat and thoughtful, and so it tries to be both, shifting tone and purpose the way a chameleon changes colors depending on its environment. The result is a mixed bag, a movie that’s often deadly serious when we should be laughing and breezy when there’s probably nothing funny. It tries to tackle too much at once and so we’re left with a fun, rebellious coming of age story which randomly mixes in things like suicide, and expects it to work. Instead, it’s kind of confusing. How the hell are we supposed to react when a hilarious teen party montage is followed by Robert Downey Jr. putting a gun to his head? It’s like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by way of The Virgin Suicides, and believe me when I tell you the two absolutely do not mix.
It’s disappointing too because Yelchin is spectacular and the character is good enough that Charlie Bartlett really could have become a Ferris Bueller for this generation. Instead his movie is a muddled collision of light-hearted sarcastic wit, and bitterly depressing drama. Ditch the dire suicide plots and Charlie Bartlett could have been special. As it is, I’m not sure I can recommend it as anything other than a way to check out Anton Yelchin, before his high-profile space walk as Ensign Pavel Chekov in JJ Abrams’ upcoming prequel to Star Trek.
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